I love how some recipes have a magnetic quality that keep you coming back to them time and time again. I’m talking about the ones that surreptitiously work their way into your everyday repertoire until you can’t imagine how you ever did without them. This, for me, is one of those recipes. It’s peasant food of my own creation – a dish that delivers a depth and complexity of flavour that you’d never expect given its simple list of ingredients, and most importantly of all… even when the cupboards are bare and the fridge is empty, I still usually have everything I need on hand to make it. That’s how simple it is. And yet somehow, it still manages to feel like a treat. The sort of meal I want to curl up on the sofa to eat, quietly delighting in every morsel.
Having evangelised about the wonders of this recipe, it might surprise you to know that the basis of it is tinned sardines in tomato sauce. I know – I’ll be the first to admit that there was a time when I would have turned my nose up at using tinned sardines too. But that was before I made sardine ragu, which transforms them into something else altogether. It’s a sort of alchemy. I can’t really explain it.
You see, this is one of the most unique and unusual recipes I’ve ever developed. It really shouldn’t work. It breaks all the rules – laughing in the face of people who like to caution against mixing fish and red wine, and scoffing at the ban on combining seafood with cheese. And proving them all wrong by managing to taste magnificently, authentically, right.
I’ve thought about it and I think that the reason that this recipe gets away with such abject flouting of the rules is that it really brings the sardines’ meatiness to the fore. They melt into the sauce to form a deep, rich ragu, that is just as comforting and complex as its regular meat-based counterparts, if a little healthier, and much more easy to make.
Hopefully I’ve managed to convince you to give sardine ragu a go. But if I’ve brought you with me so far, I should also just tell you about how your first experience making it is probably going to go:
Because while you may start full of enthusiasm, when you get to the point where you have to pour perfectly drinkable red wine over tinned sardines, you may experience a little wavering in your confidence. Someone might wander into your kitchen and raise an eyebrow, or you might privately question the sanity of following the advice of someone on the internet.
All I have to say to you is – do not give up now!
Because with a little patience, and some deliciously slow cooking, those ingredients will transmutate before your eyes.
Beautiful smells will start to waft from your kitchen.
People will find excuses to wander in and enquire about what’s cooking on the stove.
And before long, you will find that you have made something completely unexpected, that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Curl up, enjoy, and take solace in knowing that however empty your fridge or larder… sardine ragu is never more than an hour away.
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2 x 120g tins sardines in tomato sauce
- 2 carrots, diced
- 4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 125ml red wine
- Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed saucepan. Fry the onion and garlic until translucent, then add the tinned sardines, carrots, tomatoes and red wine.
- Bring the pan to the boil, and cook for 10 minutes, until all of the alcohol has evaporated off from the wine.
- Top up with 500ml freshly boiled water and leave to cook on a high simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the mixture has reduced to a ragu-like consistency and the carrots are fully cooked.
- Serve with gluten free spaghetti and shavings of parmesan, and scatter with fresh thyme.